Arsenal 1 Manchester United 1

Theo Walcott struck within two minutes of an enthralling encounter with their old Premiership adversaries, only to see former old boy Robin van Persie strike his 25th goal from the penalty spot for Champions elect Manchester United. Arsenal dominated the early possession, but having taken the lead, were unable to get the second goal their football deserved. Bacary Sagna’s misplaced back pass was seized upon by van Persie. In his desperation to recover from his mistake, the Gunners’ right back made a clumsy lunge at his former captain. Up stepped van Persie who made no mistake from the spot kick. The point continues the Gunners eight game unbeaten run, but we will only know if this is a point gained or a point lost at the end of the season agreed Arsene Wenger.

Wenger jokes over van Persie reaction and Arsenal dressing room food

 

With their intentions clear from the off, Arsenal tore into their once formidable foes, but such has been the change in the Premiership footballing order, with the Gunners’ last successful title challenge a distant nine years ago – this fixture was all about the return of van Persie. Along the sidelines pre-kick off, Wenger and Alex Ferguson shared a joke, when once they were more likely to snarl than smile. Champions League football has been a readily available stream of football for Wenger’s sides, but alongside Chelsea and Spurs, all three London sides are vying for the remaining two places at Europe’s top footballing table.

Within two minutes, Wenger got the break he and the Arsenal fans so desperately needed. van Persie lost possession, and within a few passes from Kieran Gibbs initial ball, Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey interchanged play. The Czech Republic captain fed Walcott who skipped clear, and seeing David De Gea, the Arsenal number 14 found the target with his right boot. Wenger and the Arsenal faithful went wild in celebrations.

The renewed energy and vigour so noticeable in Arsenal sides of the past was again evident in the present. Laurent Koscielny clattered into his former captain, who miraculously is enjoying back to back injury free seasons, something that still grates with Arsenal fans. The Holland striker then let Per Merterackker know he has added steel to the well known finesse to his game, only to see Phil Dowd and his name into the book after 27 minutes. The yellow card on top of Rafael’s after his foul on Rosicky four minutes earlier.

Where has this Arsenal grit and determination been before we wondered? Bathed in bright spring sunshine, the football was red hot, as was the atmosphere. In his first season, Santi Cazorla has been a revelation in the Gunners’ midfield, and almost doubled his side’s lead with a 25-yard drive that De Gea struggled to put wide for a corner.

Another United yellow card for Phil Jones for felling Mikel Arteta, as Arsenal set up wave after wave of attacks. Booed at every touch, the boos for van Persie were loudest after he skied a shot from the left. It was all reminiscent of these clubs’ great battles from the past, but unlike Wenger it has to be said, Ferguson continues to deliver when it matters.

Wojciech Szczesny returned to the starting line up, and produced the save of the match from van Persie’s point blank header, five minutes before the break. Ramsey has been a revelation of late, and his drive and determination bodes well for next season, if maybe his decision making still requires some refining. Following on from a swift counter move Walcott was open and out on the right . The former Wales’ captain however elected to pass to Lukas Podolski on the left, and despite De Gea saving, Walcott was visible with his frustration, as the dream tap in beckoned.

Three minutes before half time, the inevitable happened. Sagna is rumoured to be leaving the Emirates, and almost Emmanuel Eboue-esque, it was the right back who irked the Arsenal fans. His poor back pass, and van Persie sensed a chance. Sagna knew he was in trouble the moment he lunged into the Dutchman, and horror as a penalty was awarded.

Szczesny will have known all about his penalty preferences, but not even that inside information was to deny van Persie netting goal number 25 for his new club. United stepped up a gear in the second half, with Wayne Rooney heading Patrice Evra’s header at Szczesny. Rosicky had earlier hit wide with a shot that failed to bend in on target as the pace of the football continued.

With an hour gone, Wenger brought on Jack Wilshere in place of Rosicky. Six minutes later, Cazorla saw a free-kick sail narrowly wide, and Koscielny – so brave in a first half low header in the danger zone – and applauded by the Arsenal fans – went close with a header that he powered over De Gea’s goal. On came Gervinho for Podolski, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Ramsey as Wenger went in search of the winner.

Wilshere did well to stay on his feet under pressure from his marker, and five minutes before the end, having been clattered by Rio Ferdinand, Gibbs rightly screamed for the penalty. Ferdinand and United knew they’d got away with that one, with replays backing Gibbs’ claim. At the other end, Rooney headed at Szczesny, and substitute Ryan Giggs almost found the target until a deflection off Oxlade-Chamberlain’s thigh earned the visitors a corner. Even the magic of Cazorla couldn’t grab the Gunners the winner, as De Gea dived low to keep out his countryman’s on target shot.